Open data matters most when the stakes are high
As a New Orleanian, it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. In the days of the aftermath, we had a tremendous effort ahead of us, and government at all levels did too: Understanding the extent of the flooding, conducting damage assessments, providing temporary housing for displaced residents, rebuilding the levee system, distributing rebuilding dollars, and issuing building and demolition permits. One of the great lessons we learned through the experience was the power of data to illuminate our path to recovery.
Ten years ago, the concept of “open data” had not yet taken hold within the government.
Back then, accessing even basic government data involved a formal public-records request and often came with restrictive data-sharing agreements. As a result, in post-Katrina New Orleans, the public didn’t have easy access to many government data sets tracking recovery activities. The public could view some government records, one at a time, but because the data were not available in their entirety — in a structured, machine-readable, “open” format — citizens couldn’t download, analyze, or innovate on these data sets.